(Editor's note: Oct. 6-12 is Mental Illness Awareness Week.)
I’ve written a lot about mental illness, how it is important to reduce the stigma and how it is always possible to recover. I’ve also written about many of the services Highland Rivers Health and its community partners provide, and how we advocate — in our communities and with our legislators — for more services, support and funding for people with mental illness. But to give more context to these topics one point I always repeat is just how common mental illness is.
As we observe Mental Illness Awareness Week Oct. 6-12, I wanted to share some facts about the prevalence of mental illness in our nation, provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). As you read these, keep in mind that even if only one person in a family has mental illness, that illness likely also affects everyone in the household. In other words, mental illness not only impacts individuals, but also families, workplaces, schools and communities.
So here are some important facts about mental illness from NAMI, to which I have also added some additional thoughts:
• One in 5 adults will experience mental illness in a given year; in 2018, 19.1% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness (47.6 million people). One in 25 adults will experience serious mental illness.
• Almost the same percentage of youth — 1 in 6 — will experience mental illness each year; in 2016, 16.5% of U.S. youth ages 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder (7.7 million young people).
• 43.3% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2018 (meaning more than half did not).
• 64.1% of U.S. adults with serious mental illness received treatment in 2018 — meaning we are doing a better job of reaching individuals with serious mental health conditions.
• 50.6% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 with a mental health disorder received treatment in 2016 — meaning almost as many did not. This is cause for particular concern.
• The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years.
• People with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population.
• High school students with significant symptoms of depression are more than twice as likely to drop out compared to their peers.
• Mental illness and substance use disorders are involved in one out of every eight emergency department visits by a U.S. adult (estimated 12 million visits).
• 20.1% of people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. have a serious mental health condition.
• 37% of adults incarcerated in the state and federal prison system have a diagnosed mental illness.
• 41% of Veterans Health Administration patients have a diagnosed mental illness or substance use disorder.
• 70.4% of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosed mental illness.
• Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., and the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 to 34.
So what can these facts tell us about mental illness in the U.S. and our communities? First, millions of people are impacted — directly and indirectly — by mental illness every day. Such numbers suggest that openness about mental illness is important, and stigma misplaced.
Second, millions of people receive treatment for mental illness every year — but millions who need treatment do not. That is why funding for Georgia’s 24 Community Service Boards (which include Highland Rivers), as well as adequate insurance reimbursement for mental health services for private providers, continues to be critical.
Finally, and perhaps most important, if you, a family member or loved one is impacted by mental illness, you are not alone. But don’t wait to get help, because recovery is always possible.
Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for mental health, addiction and intellectual developmental disabilities in a 12-county region of northwest Georgia that includes Whitfield and Murray counties.